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Bear River Rendezvous

by

Sue Kite

 

 

Author’s notes:

This story is dedicated to the wonderful, kind people of Cache Valley, where this story is set. All the places are real, the people are representative of real persons I knew during the time I lived there, while I was working on my college degrees. Bear River Rendezvous came about from an incident that happened to me last Christmas when my husband and I were visiting our children in Logan. The same thing happened to our car as we were traveling up Sardine Pass back to our son’s house. However, a couple of very sweet and considerate people helped us out, letting us stay in their house, sample their Christmas goodies while the men figured out what was wrong with the car. We made it to my son’s house safely and after someone on the list said the incident should be put in a story, it began to percolate in my brain. The rest, as they say, is history. Some explanations are in order….

The culture: despite the fact that it’s all one country here in the U.S., there is a definite culture in the Intermountain West. I have made Chip’s wife a part of it by relationship, mainly to get our boys there. I am talking about the culture of the LDS people, or for those not familiar with the acronym, the Mormons. I have tried to be as objective as I can, since it’s mainly from Lee and Chip’s pov’s, but it’s hard to hide my affection for the people of Paradise and Cache Valley. They were very good to me the seven plus years that I lived there.

With that in mind, I have tried to be true to the vernacular, the mind-set and the customs as I have told this story. When I have one of the characters refer to his Church friend, it’s Brother Mortensen, not Mister. And Home Teachers are church members, usually Elders, who look out for one another, especially during times of difficulty.

The dog was based on one we had a few years back. He was never in Utah, but I have made him true to the nature of our dear departed doggy friend.  

 

Takes place right after “I’ll Be Home for Christmas—Hopefully.”    sue

 

 

Chapter 1

For probably the tenth time in the past half hour, Captain Lee Crane gazed out the window of the large dining room at the cold, powdered sugar mountainside near Brigham City, Utah, even as he began working on the second half of a very large burger. The onion rings were already finished, having come out fresh from the fryer and straight to their table. He took a bite and then put the burger down.

“You’ll have to admit, my wife’s aunt was right about this place,” Commander Chip Morton said between mouthfuls of his equally large burger. He purposefully ignored his friend’s anxious look.

“Yes, she was, but don’t you think we need to get going?”

“Lee, we have plenty of time. It’s only 1130 hours and they said it would take, at most, a couple of hours to get to Bear Lake from here.”

“It’s two very high and winding canyons from here,” Crane replied tersely. He finished his coffee and laid the cup down with a contented sigh. “Have to admit, though, they make good coffee here.” He signaled the waitress for another cup. “From a fresh pot,” he instructed her.

Chip said nothing, but smiled at his friend’s remark. It had been a sore point with Lee that he had not had coffee readily available the last couple of days. It had bothered Chip a bit, too, but he had been able to overlook it most of the time. When his wife’s Aunt Caroline had coaxed them and Lee to come out and spend New Year’s in northern Utah with that part of his wife’s extensive family, he had neglected to think there would be amenities not always accessible to the two submariners. Coffee was the main one.  “I thought you wanted to leave soon,” Chip quipped.

“I’m getting my supply of coffee, not knowing when I will get more.”

Chip laughed, to his captain’s intense irritation. “You’re still sore about Caroline and Richard not having a coffee pot in their house.”

“No, I’m not still sore about that, Chip….”

“Oh?”

Lee glared at his exec. “Okay, a little bit. But let’s face it, a person can only handle so many trips to MacDonald’s.”

“It wasn’t that bad, Lee.”

You aren’t the one who had to go out in sub-zero temperatures at 0600, either.” 

Chip chuckled softly. “I wasn’t the one having coffee withdrawals.”

Crane just snorted as the waitress poured fresh coffee from a steaming pot. “Thanks,” he told her, his flashing smile for her belying his previous grumbling.

“And you’ll have to admit, everyone was very nice at Caroline’s,” Chip added when the woman left.

Lee nodded, a slight smile of his own. “Mmm, yes, they were and I also have to admit that the sites they took us to were much more impressive than I had figured they would be.”

“What’s not impressive about downtown Salt Lake City in the winter?”

Savoring his coffee with a sigh, Lee smiled more broadly, his equanimity restored. “Walking Temple Square in the snow did seem almost ethereal, what with all the lights and displays. If we’d just been left alone to take it all in.”

“You mean all those missionaries,” Chip asked, chuckling at the memory of the eager young men and women. He knew Lee had been uncomfortable with the crowds at first, seeing as how he had been sentenced to a life in solitary confinement and only been freed less than a week ago.

“Could have done without those,” came the murmured reply.

Chip shrugged, deciding to play devil’s advocate. “Someone I know was regaling a visiting senator and his entourage earlier this year with the description and virtues of a certain submarine.”

“Well, can’t help it if I am lucky enough to have the best boat in the world,” Crane reacted quickly. 

“Bingo.” Chip waited for a reaction. He wasn’t long in getting one. Lee looked puzzled, so Chip continued. “If someone believes they have the best of anything, they’re going to….”

“Okay, I get the idea,” Lee interjected. He changed the subject. “But I still say we need to hit the road. I’d rather get to Bear Lake earlier than get surprised by an early snowstorm. Besides, the sooner we get there, the quicker you can cuddle up to your lovely wife who promised to have a fire waiting in that lake front cabin.”

“Okay, Grandma. But you’re right, I’ll be able to give Nikki some loving while the rest of you peons prepare to bring in the New Year.” Chip caught the waitress’s attention. “Check, please.”

“Uh, uh, you can do that while the ball drops, just like the rest of us,” Lee growled as he took another drink of his coffee.

“You and who else? Nikki’s niece? She’s too young for you, m’bucko, even if she has the hots for you,” Chip smirked as he pulled out his credit card. He laughed at his friend’s flush of embarrassment.

As though reading his mind, the waitress brought a box for the remainder of Lee’s burger as well as the check. The two men were still bantering even as Chip paid.

“Going up Sardine Canyon?” the young, brown-haired woman behind the cash register asked.

“Yes,” Crane replied, his eyes flicking at the road and mountains outside the large front window. “Something we should know?”

“It’s in great shape. Snow’s been scraped away and the road’s been salted heavily.” She smiled reassuringly. “You won’t have any problems getting to Logan.”

“That obvious?” Lee asked, looking a little embarrassed.

“That you’re not from around here?” she asked. “I can understand how you feel. I was the same way the first year I lived out here.”

“What’s crazy is that my partner, here, was born in Rhode Island,” Chip interjected. “New England cold winters and all that.”

“Moved young and the mountains there could be hidden under a tea-cup,” Lee countered, his eyes raking Chip over a high temp grill.

She laughed softly. “Well, it’s going to be a very uneventful drive through the canyon. Might even be able to see some deer, and the mountains are spectacular with snow on them. So have your cameras ready.”

“I’ll hold you to that, ma’am,” Lee replied, returning her smile. He pulled on the new sheepskin lined coat that Nikki and Chip had bought for him for a late Christmas present.

Chip had an identical one. He suspected that he might use his with some degree of frequency, what with the family he had married into, but Lee wouldn’t, except to visit the Sierras when he could be coaxed. The two men walked out to their rental car and Crane sighed. It appeared that he was only barely restraining himself from kicking the tire.

“It’s just until we catch the plane in a couple of days, Lee,” Chip reassured his friend, at the same time empathizing completely. That the rental place only had a few cars left when they had flown in and that none of them could be considered the least bit stylish or even slightly classy had been a bitter enough pill to swallow. However, that it was a non-descript Aries K-car had rankled both men. After Lee’s recent ordeal in the People’s Republic, Chip had hoped for something more fitting for his friend’s first outing in freedom.

Nikki had been pragmatic about it, though. A car was a car and it ran, getting them to the places they needed to go. Lee had complained that it had no guts and Nikki had quickly responded with something to the effect that she didn’t want ‘glory’ on the Intermountain West roads in the middle of winter. Lee had quickly shut up and bit the bullet.

Chip chuckled as he remembered the exchange. His wife knew how to take care of Lee, respecting him, liking him, but keeping him in line at the same time. Not too many people could do that, most of all among women. Nikki also had the knack of keeping them both on the civilian track when they were off-boat, too. There were times he was intensely grateful for that. And there was the fact that she also could include Lee in some of their activities without making him feel like a tag-along. Chip had worried about that when he had married. He needn’t have. Nikki, as a former WAVE, then a biochemist involved in oceanographic research, was well versed in the nuances of their professions.

He was brought back to the present when he noticed Lee standing in his way by the driver’s side of the car.  “I thought I was driving.”

Crane shook his head.  “I’m driving. I saw how your eyes lit up when the cashier mentioned deer, taking pictures and beautiful mountains. How many rolls of film have you used already? Three? I’ll drive, you rubberneck. Besides, rank has its privileges.”

Chip laughed and dug in his pocket past the thermal glove that was stuffed inside. He pulled out the keys, handing them over.

“Besides, you forgot to turn off the lights.” Lee pointed. Sure enough the lights were on in back.

“I’m sure I turned them off,” he said with a frown.

“Well, we weren’t in there long enough, Chip. Don’t worry about it.”

They got in and Lee started the car. They drove out of the small parking area onto old highway 89, the one that would take them not only into Sardine Pass but all the way to Bear Lake. It wasn’t long before they reached the turn-off into the canyon. The signs were very clear, but Lee frowned and fooled around with the brake while waiting for the light to change.

“What’s up?” Chip asked, watching.

“Nothing, just checking to make sure I had the emergency brake off.” He paused briefly. “I did.” They turned up the canyon and Lee muttered, “Gutless wonder.”

The car did seem a bit sluggish, but Chip figured it was the steepness of the slope along with the car’s lack of horsepower. He pulled out his camera and checked it to make sure the settings were right. They were and he sighted through the viewfinder at the snow-covered mountainside. Chip watched carefully as they continued to slowly, but steadily climb. Not far into their drive, they passed a small town. Mantua, he read on the sign. It looked very pristine with a small lake, rustic houses on one side of the highway in a small tucked-in valley in the mountains. He took a few pictures as they headed up the steep slope.

They continued upward. Snow was piled on each side of the two-lane highway, testament of the storms that had already passed through this part of the country. No wonder Lee was a bit nervous. They could calmly, or most of the time, successfully, deal with anything that was thrown at them underwater, but this was a totally different environment. They got to one summit and then into a valley with fallow, snow-covered fields on each side. They started up again, slowly making it to the top. They were just heading down again, picking up speed. There! There was a deer—no, there were several of them in a sparse thicket not far from the side of the road. One was a two-point buck. A doe, couple of yearlings.

“What the hell?” Lee said suddenly.

Chip turned to see what was happening and caught someone pointing toward their front wheels even as they passed by them. “What’s….”

“Must be a flat. Should’ve stopped and checked it before this. Damn!” Lee slowly pulled over as they started up another slope, finding a spot a bit wider on the side of the road. He checked the traffic, which was not too heavy and then got out as soon as the opportunity arose. “What?” he said, almost to himself as he looked at both left tires.

Chip was close to a snow bank, but he managed to get out, too, camera still hanging around his neck. What he saw almost had him slack-jawed in shock. “What?”

“They’re red hot!” Lee cried. “Get away from the car,” he ordered.

Chip didn’t waste time gaping; he reached in and grabbed the backpack with the hunting equipment the in-laws had given him for Christmas. The inner rims of the tires looked like the inside of a car cigarette lighter, red hot and steaming in their proximity to the cold snow and icy air. The submariners strode about ten yards ahead of the car and waited to see what would happen next.

“I’m no mechanic, but that appears to be some kind of braking system problem,” Chip mused as they stood staring at the car sitting serenely. Cars passed by them, some slowing down.

One person slowed and pulled over near them, rolling down her window. A couple of kids were in the back, staring at them in curiosity. She asked apologetically, “Would you like me to call someone for you? I’d take one of you, but…”

“I understand, ma’am,” Lee said, his voice conciliatory. “But that would be nice if you could call the police. We’re not from around here and don’t know anyone.” Then he added, glancing at the car. “I still don’t know if that thing is dangerous. You might better take the kids and drive on.”

She nodded. “As soon as I get through the pass, I’ll call the sheriff’s office.”

“Thank you, I appreciate that,” Lee said with a reassuring smile.

She rolled up the window and eased back onto the highway when it was clear.

Lee looked at Chip and what he was holding in one hand. “Not the most reassuring thing to have, you know.”

Chip looked down and realized he was still holding the new rifle. “Oh, sorry. I wasn’t going to leave it in there, though. Not if the car was going to explode. If I know Nikki’s in-laws, this wasn’t cheap and I want a chance….”

“That was fast,” Lee muttered looking up the highway where the woman had driven off. A flashing light on an unmarked car was approaching them from the northeast, the way they had been headed.  “Well, at least we won’t be out here in the cold for terribly long. I wish we’d had an extra mobile.”

Chip felt a twinge of guilt that he had talked Lee into letting Nikki and her parents take the Institute mobile phone. Of course, it didn’t matter that his friend had seen the apparent wisdom of the decision and hadn’t needed any coaxing. Chip laid the gun aside, next to his backpack, not wanting any extra issues with the local police. They watched as the sedan parked about ten feet ahead of them and a very large man got out from behind the wheel. There was another man, but Chip couldn’t see him clearly.

“Problem, mister?” the man asked. Chip watched the man swagger up toward them. He was suddenly reminded of the overbearing sheriff in the Smokey movie he had watched a year or two back. This guy walked just like him and the accent was even similar.

“Yes, sir,” Lee began and then his voice trailed off for a few seconds.

For some reason, Chip felt a small tingling of alarm and wanted desperately to reach for the rifle he had laid down, even if it was unloaded.

“Something’s wrong with our car,” Lee said slowly, using the careful, deliberate voice he did on the sub when things weren’t quite what they should be.

Chip began watching his captain for cues. He noticed Lee’s gaze stray from the policeman’s face to the police sedan and Chip followed suit. The other man was still sitting in the car. The uniforms seemed right, badges, car, and yet—and yet, there was something….

“Like the brakes locked up, or something,” Lee added. Cars slowed down to see what was going on, but the policeman waved them on. In the distance, Chip heard the wavering sound of a siren coming from the direction this one had come. “They were red hot a few minutes ago,” Lee continued, his voice sounding distracted. “We didn’t know if the car was going to blow up or not, to be honest with you.”

The big sheriff swaggered toward their car, looked and then returned to them. “Yeah, something’s wrong. Not safe to drive it.” He paused. “What’s your name, sir?” he asked Lee, his eyes only flicking quickly to Chip.

“Commander Lee Crane.”

The sheriff looked startled for a brief moment. “Navy? The one who….”

“Yeah,” Lee cut the man off, obviously not wanting to go into his recent adventure, which was only now edging off the media charts.

“Well, you two boys get in the back of my car and we’ll take you into Logan where you can hire a tow truck. Definitely not safe to drive that car.”

“Thanks,” Lee began, hesitated and then continued. “Actually, if you could just call a tow truck out for us, we’d rather wait.” When he got a sharp look from the sheriff, he added, “It’s a rental and I really don’t want to pay extra for a hunk of junk like this—you know, in case something happened while we were away.”

Crane’s eyes continued to alternate between the man before them and the one in the sedan. A click of the car door told Chip that the other man was getting out. Cars blew past them, some of them slowing down, one pulling over on the other side of the road. Before Chip could get a good look at the sheriff’s partner, Lee shouted something that had the hair rising on the back of his neck. Chip looked closely at the partner, now standing beside the patrol sedan and he knew. The moment was petrified into one terrifying instant in time. The eyes that bored into him were from the past; they pinned him to a specimen board. For a nano-second they had him unable to move or do anything. Death stalked them. The man reached for a gun and suddenly all hell broke loose.

 

****

 

Chapter 2

 

“Hartsfield!” Crane cried out, his eyes blazing, locked on the man who had just gotten out of the sedan. The large man grabbed him, one hand reaching to curl around Lee’s neck. In his right hand was a gun. With a cry of rage, Lee exploded, ducking out of the so-called sheriff’s grasp, wrenching the gun away with one hand. He seized the huge man’s fist and bent the fingers back. Sheriff cried out in pain and jerked back. It seemed as though everything was moving interminably slow, but Chip knew it was only an instant.

Lee reversed the gun—Chip noticed it had a silencer—and fired it at Hartsfield. With a scream, the former ONI operative fell to the ground, writhing. But Chip had seen something before Lee fired. Hartsfield was pulling something from his waist; a gun, Chip thought, which he had no doubt meant to use against Lee; probably both of them. The quasi-sheriff lunged at Lee again, this time succeeding in grabbing him by the wrist. They struggled and Chip, who had snatched his rifle from where it had rested, leaped toward the struggling men. Somewhere back in the recesses of his brain, he again heard sirens in the distance, the screech of brakes more close, a horn blaring. Then he heard a soft pop, a scream and to his immense relief, he saw the large sheriff—or whatever he was- fall away from Lee with another sharp cry.

“Lee, there’s more coming!” he said, pointing up the highway where he was hearing the sirens. The sun was painting a surreal brightness to the surroundings, belying the fact they had just been ambushed. Someone screeched to a halt on the other side of the highway in their pickup truck and pointed a gun out the opened window. There was a logo on the side, but Chip couldn’t tell what it was in the glare of the sun. He pointed the rifle at him and the man ducked.

“We don’t know if they’re friendlies or more of Hartsfield’s cronies,” Lee responded, pulling away from the large man groaning on the ground. “We’re gonna have to get away from here!”

“Mountains, Lee. Circle around back to that town we just passed. Find someone friendly,” Chip said in a rush. He grabbed his pack and with a glance back at his partner, he threw it over his shoulders and headed off the roadway and into a nearby thicket. The camera was still bouncing on his chest. He noticed the look of disgust that Lee had sent his way, but he could explain later. A shot and a resulting pinging caused him to spin around before get more than a few feet into the bent little trees. Lee had fired at the man in the truck, hitting the truck bed.

“Go, Chip, keep going! Some of these mountain cowboys aren’t waiting to ask questions first! There’s some rocks upslope that will get us out of line of fire. Go!”

Chip went. The pack weighed him down, but he wasn’t going to take the time to take it off now. The empty rifle was helping him with the terrain and he was glad he had brought it along. If they could only get the next fifty or so feet unscathed. Everything seemed to be moving so slowly. The slope seemed to be impossibly steep. The sirens blared louder, coming right behind them. The cavalry had apparently arrived. A shout for them to stop, come back, drop their guns, all the standard fare. But who was a friend now, and who was foe?

Another crack and a branch exploded in front of him. There was another shout; a more heated warning. Then there were several more shots, spattering the ground and kicking up gravel. To bad these folks didn’t realize just who it was back there next to the patrol car, he thought desperately. “Lee?” he called over his shoulder.

“Keep moving, Chip! I’m right behind you,” his friend panted.

With that, Chip put on a burst of speed and reached a tumble of boulders. Ducking behind some rocks, he saw that there was a passage almost like a trail leading upward, at times protected by other outcroppings of boulders and scrub. With surprise, Chip realized that they weren’t that far from the top of the mountain. They had to have climbed in record time. He glanced back and saw Lee only a few feet behind him.

“What the hell possessed you to tell everyone out there, including sheriff wannabe, your plans?” Lee spat, heaving in a shuddering gulp of air.

“Throw them off. It’s closer to go over the mountains into Cache Valley than it is to go back to that place we passed,” Chip countered. The siren wavered in the wind, its voice echoing up and down in grotesque wailing.

Lee nodded and motioned for him to continue. They did, although the rocks did nothing for their speed. Sometimes they slipped and had to scrabble for footing. Periodically, they were reminded that there were people down there unhappy with them and their little shoot-out with Lee’s former ONI co-operative. More shouts; now from a cop, he surmised, and then another couple of shots. A rock exploded beside his head and he dropped down.

“Keep going,” Lee commanded. “Think someone’s following. We can reconnoiter on the other side of this slope.”

“And hope those cowboys down there don’t form a posse,” Chip shot over his shoulder. But he continued, keeping as low as he could. The distant sirens didn’t sound so distant, but the wind made it difficult to tell. He finally made it to the top of the mountain and slid/scrambled down the other side. The rocks seemed to alternate with sparse brush and stunted tree growth, but Chip only slowed down enough to keep his footing. He found another narrow trail, presumably from deer and he followed it. A quick glance at the sky gave him reason to believe that it was going in the same direction he presumed Cache county to be in. There was a town, Paradise, he remembered, that he had seen on the map. Not large, but there would be someone they could find who might listen to their story. It would give time for the real law to figure out just who it was that had ambushed them.

Chip would have preferred to have just waited for the real police to show up, but how could he know if the next group wasn’t part of Hartsfield’s crew? Apparently the former agent had friends. Sheriff wannabe, as Lee had called him, was proof of that.

They made good time on the track and soon they were at a tiny, half frozen creek at the bottom of the short slope. The trees were fairly thick here. Aspen mingled with a bit of scrub pine and brush. He pushed through to the edge of the creek and paused. There was another track leading up another slope. Chip heaved in cold breaths of air and then turned to see how Lee was faring.  With sudden alarm, he didn’t see his friend. “Lee?”

There was the sound of rocks rattling down the slope toward him, crackling brush and then Lee was in front of him. “Had to take care of the hot shot following us,” he said with a wan smile.

“You didn’t….”

“No,” he replied tersely. “Just knocked him out.” He leaned over to catch his breath and then shoved the confiscated gun into his pocket.

“You okay?” Chip asked in alarm. Lee seemed pale. “I know seeing Hartsfield was….”

“I’m okay,” Lee shot back, his voice tight with what Chip perceived to be barely controlled anger. “You sure you know the way to get to this other county?”

“I know the general direction. There’s a town at the very south end of Cache Valley called Paradise….”

“What?” Lee’s eyes widened with surprise but he didn’t say anything else, only stood quietly, hands jammed into his pockets, leaning against a tree.

Chip couldn’t help but wonder if the tree was holding him up. He knew how much the revelation of Hartsfield’s role in his mother’s death a couple of years had shaken him, but Lee had not wanted to talk much about it and Chip hadn’t pushed. That had been over two years ago. Now, with Hartsfield on the other side of the mountain, with the sure knowledge that the former ONI operative had been patiently stalking his friend, he wondered at Lee’s ability to cope with what had just happened. “Lee?”  He was going to ask if he thought Hartsfield was still alive, but thought better of it. “Yeah, Paradise. There’s an even smaller town a bit further, but I think its Paradise that will be closer and there are lots of outlying farms and ranches in these parts. We’re talking maybe five or six miles.”

Again, Lee nodded. “We’d better get going then, before they send out a real posse. While we still have daylight.”

“Yes.” Chip quickly pulled off his backpack, shoving his camera inside and then digging in one of the outer pockets. He pulled out a small compass and studied it. He looked up the steep slope next to the creek. “We’ll follow the creek bed a ways until we can find a decent path up this mountain. We’ll need to go over it somewhere in that direction,” he said, pointing.

“Okay, Chip. You lead. You had the foresight to come prepared.”

“How could anyone prepare for what happened back there? Bet the brakes were tampered with while we were eating,” Chip responded. When Lee didn’t say anything, Chip shrugged the pack on and they set out, following the tiny creek until it disappeared in a copse of aspen and pine. At that point the mountain sloped a bit easier toward the east. There were also several small stands of trees, Chip noticed gratefully and he made use of them, in case someone else came over the crest of the slope behind them.

He took in the scudding clouds above them, heading west to east and Chip realized that the storm that had been forecast for tonight might be coming in a bit sooner than expected. The wind picked up more as they went higher, but it had the advantage to be at their backs, almost giving them a boost up the slope. Occasionally, he heard the soft, wavering sound of sirens, but it was of no consequence right now. Chip hoped they wouldn’t bring in anything more advanced, liked a helicopter or a canine cop. The latter would be extremely hard to deal with.

They reached the top and Chip walked a bit down slope before stopping to take bearings. It looked to be an easier hike in this valley. Lee was near his elbow so Chip just continued down the mountain path, thanking whatever generations of deer had made it so many years ago. The snow had been able to lay better here and there were drifts up against boulders and around thickets. Chip thought they made good time, with only a few loose rocks to impede their progress. They hiked up another slope, still heading east and then down into another narrow valley. This one was steeper, and more heavily wooded, but the path wove unerringly to the east. They went through another, wider valley. When Lee slowed his pace, Chip reminded him of their need to reach Paradise before dark. Still the pace continued slowing as they made their way across the valley.

Chip figured they had gone at least a few miles. He looked at his watch. Suddenly, a rustling ahead stopped him in his tracks. A deer with a yearling fawn suddenly exploded out of a thicket nearby, startling him. “Geez, under any other circumstances, that would have been beautiful.” 

“Chip,” Lee said softly from behind him, his panting breath harsh. 

Turning, Chip was alarmed to see that Crane was almost ashen. He was standing about ten feet behind him, clutching on to a small tree. “Lee, what….?”

Lee suddenly dropped to his knees, stifling a moan. He bent forward as though sick to his stomach.

Shucking the pack as he ran the short distance to his friend, Chip noticed the dark red stain in the upper part of the back of Lee’s coat. “Dammit, Lee, why didn’t you tell me you’d been hit!”

Sucking in a tremulous breath, Crane murmured, “Had to get away. No difference. Sorry, Chip.”

“You need medical help—a hospital. I’ll help you get back.”

“No!” Lee looked directly into Chip’s eyes. “No. We’re wanted. Me for murder—of a cop, maybe two. They aren’t ready yet to listen.”

“Lee, they wouldn’t shoot us in cold blood if we came back peacefully and you’d get the care you….”

“No. Chip listen. You’re probably right, but we don’t know. There were others. One in the truck was forestry. If they are following, how do we know what’s on their minds. Hartsfield could’ve had more men. The one I clobbered wasn’t a real cop.”

“No, he was an idiot.” Desperately, Chip, looked around, his eyes flitting to anything that might offer at least a place where he could look at Lee’s wound.

Lee chuckled, but it sounded weak. “How far to this Paradise did you say?”

“About two, maybe three miles from here I guess. We’ve gone about three, according to my best reckoning.”

Crane nodded slowly. “Mountains don’t seem quite as steep here. I say we go on. Find a place to hole up tonight. Someplace warm.” His statement was punctuated by shivering. “That gives the local police time to figure out what we knew up front. We were ambushed.”

Chip sucked in a deep breath and finally nodded. “First I’m going to do something about that bleeding.”

“Okay,” Lee acquiesced.

“If I give you a hand, can you walk a little further?”

The amber brown eyes snapped briefly in indignation and then Crane gave a slight nod. “I made it, what, three miles over these blasted mountains, why not a few more?” he said, reaching out for Chip’s help.

Carefully, Morton helped his commanding officer to his feet. Lee seemed to be steady enough, but still. . .  “Just lean on me and we’ll go into that thicket the deer were in. If someone is following us, we’ll be out of sight.”

“Good idea, but we’re not going to stay more than long enough for you to bandage the wound.”

“Let me play doc this time,” Chip replied sardonically, “Even if you do have a great deal of experience.”

This time, Lee’s laugh was a bit heartier.

It made Chip feel a bit better about what he figured lay ahead.

“Anything you say, Mr. Morton,” Lee answered.

 

Trooper Jeff Allred pulled up and surveyed the scene. In the distance, he heard the sirens wailing. Two ambulances had been dispatched, but at first glance, he wasn’t sure that both were needed. He was assailed by several people at once. He glanced at them and chose the deputy from the sheriff’s office. “What happened? I was told that a couple of policemen had been attacked.”

The deputy nodded. “When I pulled up, the scuffle had progressed into shooting and that officer over there was already dead. This one is wounded, but an off duty nurse is tending to him. He’s said nothing since he was told that his partner was dead.” Then he pointed up the steep slope. “They went up that way, both of them well armed. I tried to get them to surrender, but they refused. I was worried about them being on the loose.” His sentence trailed off and he sounded apologetic.

“What are you not telling me?”

“I was only firing to warn them . . . shoot above their heads, you know. Well, I guess . . .  I mean, I think I let my anger get the best of me. I kept thinking that they had killed one policeman and tried to kill another and wondered what they might do to civilians.”

“And you shot one?” The young deputy nodded. Allred peered up the sun-burnished slope. “I don’t see anyone.”

“No, they both kept on going and . . . well, now I’m wondering if I actually did hit anyone.”

“You’d better hope not. There are procedures to follow.”

The deputy nodded. “One of them said something about heading back to Mantua, so I put in an alert to have a couple of Box Elder officers patrol the area.”

“Good.”

“Uh, one other thing, sir,” the young deputy said.

“What?”

“Guy in that truck followed. I told him to stop, but he ignored me.”

“Any shots on the other side of the mountain?” Allred asked.

“No, nothing, sir.”

Allred sighed. “As much as I hate to say this, we can’t spare anyone now. As soon as reinforcements come, you and I can go over the ridge and look for him.” The deputy nodded and he walked over to the large man being tended on the ground. Looked to be non-life threatening gunshot wound in his leg. “You all right?” The man nodded. Then Allred frowned. He was pretty much aware of most of the policemen in the area. This one didn’t ring any bells. “I don’t think I know you. What’s your name?”

“I’m federal,” came the terse answer.

The answer didn’t seem quite right for someone in law enforcement, especially to someone else in law enforcement. “Can I see your identification?”

The man fumbled inside his shirt and then looked back up. “Must be in the car.”

The man was federal and didn’t seem to have everything put together, Allred thought. “Ambulance will be here soon.” He turned to the deputy. “You keep the traffic moving. We sure don’t need any accidents from rubbernecking.”

“Yes, sir.”

Allred walked over to the large man’s sedan and glanced inside. He looked back at the dead man on the ground and saw that his left hand seemed unnaturally gnarled. Then Allred looked inside the door of their cruiser. With a sharp intake of breath he did a more serious study of the car, without touching anything. “Mark?” he called out.

“Yes,” the deputy answered at once.

“Call an investigative team in here. I want this car and the deceased checked out. Something’s not right.” He turned back to the large man on the ground who appeared to have been watching his every move. Allred ignored him and walked to the other car, the one he assumed belonged to the two fugitives. There was a carry-on sized case in the back, along with a thin briefcase. He pulled out his gloves from an outer pocket and slipped them on. Then he reached in and touched the button that would open the latches on the briefcase. As he suspected, it was locked. He turned his attention to the case, unzipping it and pulling back the flap. Basic supplies—shaving kit, other toiletries, underwear, change of clothes; there was nothing to tell him any identity, except for a few souvenirs that showed this pair to be from out of state. Allred looked into a side pocket and pulled out an airline ticket. It was to Santa Barbara and was made out to a Lee Crane.

Allred pondered where he had heard that name before. He looked again. It was marked for military standby. Military. Santa Barbara. What military connections did Santa Barbara have? None, unless you counted the Nelson Institute of Marine Research. And then he realized just who one of these men was. Jolted, Allred backed out of the car and returned to the injured man.

 ****

 

Chapter 3

 

Allred walked up to the injured policeman. His gut feeling told him the man was not in law enforcement at all.  “What’s your name? Who was your partner?” The man gazed up at him in silence. “You know it’s going to be hard enough with an impersonating an officer charge but then add to it the attempted murder of a high ranking official.”

The large man seemed a bit shaken. “What are you talking about? What high ranking official?”

“Captain Lee Crane? Submarine Seaview? Made a bit of news last week.”

The man glanced at his dead partner and as the first ambulance pulled up he said tersely, “That guy hired me.” He pointed at the body. “Said Crane was ONI and had sold secrets to get out of the People’s Republic. Said I was to take them alive so Crane could stand trial. I wasn’t going to shoot him, much less murder him.”

Allred wasn’t buying it, but he read the guy his rights anyway. “If he was legit, then why wouldn’t ONI send him with enough backup to do the job instead of hiring outside help.”

The big man shook his head.

“Doesn’t wash,” Allred commented. One paramedic began working on the large man while the other checked the dead man. Allred ignored them and continued his questioning. “What was his name?”

“Harker. John Harker.”

“Did you check him out?”

“Why?” he asked with a sneer. “His money was good.”

“You never told me your name.”

The man suddenly clammed up except to say, “I want a lawyer.”

“You’ll get one,” Allred said in disgust. By now clouds had not only covered the sun, but they had lowered considerably. They were already hiding the tops of some of the summit peaks. That storm would hit well before dark, he guessed. Strike another one up for the meteorologists, he thought with a humorless smile. Another sheriff’s vehicle showed up. Allred walked over to the body and addressed the paramedic who had just finished his assessment. “I want the body left here for the investigative team.”

“The guy had a gun,” the paramedic said, pointing.

Allred’s eyebrow shot up in surprise and he looked. It wasn’t Government Issue unless ONI was giving its operatives silencers to go with their revolvers. Something else for the investigative team to figure out. “There’s possibly another injured man up there, maybe two.  Someone will be going up in a minute and can let you know.”

As the first ambulance headed back to Logan, he and Mark Petersen headed up the steep slope. “About how far up were they when you shot at them?”

“About halfway up.”

They continued up the slope and then over the crest. They came across a man lying motionless on the ground. A quick check showed him to be unconscious. A knot on the back of his head showed the reason why. Allred and Petersen checked the area and found no one else. “If you nailed one of them, it wasn’t bad enough to leave any blood evidence—or to hold these two up. Go get one of the paramedics up here.” As Allred waited, perusing the terrain, the man at his feet began to stir. The trooper knelt down, putting his hand on the young man’s shoulder.

“What?” The eyes fluttered open, took in Allred and tried to sit up.

“Take it easy. There’s a paramedic coming up.”

The younger man shivered. “I remember seeing one of them down below and then . . . bam, nothing.”

“I hope you remember how stupid you were, coming up here alone,” Allred said dryly.

“Yeah. I should have known better. I’m an MP on leave…. Just was going to see where they were going. Didn’t even think they knew I was behind them.” He looked up at Allred. “For what it’s worth, those guys are good.”

Allred ignored the explanation, still thinking the man more stupid than dirt, even more so because of his training. “Were you at the scene when the shooting occurred?” he asked.

“Yeah, it was going down. The big cop was talking to the dark-haired guy and when the smaller cop got out of his car, the dark-haired guy just lost it. Shouted a name, ‘Hartsfield,’ I think. Grabbed the big guy’s gun and then shot the smaller guy right where he stood. Shot both of them….”

“Okay, you’ll be able to give a full statement when they take you to the hospital.” The man began arguing. “That knot on your head says you’re going to spend a couple of hours at Logan Hospital.”

The man sighed. “My wife’s never going to let me live this down.”

“Good, might keep you alive next time.”

 

                                    ================================

 

As Chip worked on his friend in the sheltered copse of trees, Lee sucked in a tremulous breath and bit off an involuntary cry.

“Sorry, I know it hurts.” He finished cleaning the area around the wound and placed the folded material from a ripped up t-shirt against the wound. The bullet had struck from below and slid under the skin, further diminishing its power. Still, Chip worried. Too much blood. This whole thing; the whole situation was surreal. To be acting like spies on some botched ONI mission in the middle of America seemed more dream, or nightmare, than reality. He shook his mental meanderings to the side and concentrated on taking care of Lee. The rest of the shirt was folded and wrapped over Crane’s shoulder and under his other arm to hold the bandage on tight. The material’s stretchy nature would help keep the bandage secure.

“Hurts? Hell, no, your hands are cold!”

Everything’s cold, Lee,” Chip reminded his friend. He knew Lee was in pain; he had to be, but it was hidden behind the bravado. Lee knew, as well as he did, that they were not in a good position. Either way they went, back or forward, was going to be tough. But Lee had a point, the mountains before them appeared to be not quite so steep. If they could only make it to someone’s place, then Crane could get the help he needed.

His comment elicited a soft chuckle that ended sharply as Chip continued to work on the wound.

“You even have a first aid kit in that pack of yours?” Lee asked, his voice sardonic.

Chip decided to keep up the pretense that Lee had built, at least for the moment. “No, a tee-shirt. You liked it so much, you get the privilege of having Temple Square close to you, pal.”

There was a pause. “You used the tee-shirt Caroline gave you?”

“Sure. It’ll help keep the bleeding to a minimum. And besides, I didn’t have much in there to choose from. Didn’t think denim would work.”

Lee ignored his last comment. “How bad?”

“Better than I figured. Bullet had to have been stopped by your shoulder blade after entering your back on an upward trajectory. You’re lucky you don’t have a fracture; at least nothing appears to be fractured. You did lose more blood than I’m comfortable with, though.”

“No, not fractured. . . I think. Distance, too,” came the terse answer.

“And that heavy coat you’re wearing.” Keep it positive, Chip reminded himself.

“Not wearing it now.” Lee’s teeth were chattering and Chip knew he was trying hard to control his body’s automatic reactions.

Lee had been shivering the entire time Chip had been working on the wounded shoulder, more violently when Morton had used snow to help wipe off the coagulated blood. Now powerful shudders passed through the lean frame, hindering Chip’s first aid efforts. “Sorry,” Chip said again. “But you need to hold as still as you can so I can finish this.”

“Hurry up, Chip. It’s too cold to be stripped to the skin out here.”

Chip worried at the almost plaintive note in Lee’s voice. “Yeah, but I have to make sure the bandage will stay put. I am working as fast as I can, Lee.”

For several minutes there was only the sound of the wind moaning in the heights and the rustle of tree limbs rubbing against each other in the protected thicket. “I know, Chip,” Lee said, his voice soft and subdued. “When you’re done, do you happen to have some water in that Tardis you call a backpack?”

Chip ignored the Dr. Who reference. Right now, though, he wished he did have a travel device. “Yeah, I do, Lee. I’ll get it out after I immobilize your arm and then help you get your shirt and coat back on.”

“No, don’t bind my arm. I might need it for balance,” Lee said and before Chip could protest, he continued, “I know the risks, Chip, but I also know the risks of falling on some of these rocky slopes, too, if I’m unbalanced.”

Chip opened his mouth for argument, but realized Lee was right about that. He did need the use of his left arm if he slid on rocks or snow. “Okay, but try to use it as little as possible,” he admonished. Gently, Morton pulled on the thick flannel shirt, now hard crusted with frozen blood and buttoned it. He eased on the heavy down-filled coat. Finally, he pushed Lee’s hands out of the way and fastened the buttons. Before he could do anything else, Lee jerked the hood over his head one-handed and began fumbling with the snaps and drawstrings. “Whoa, wait a minute. Didn’t I tell you to keep that arm as immobile as you could?”

“You start feeding me and I’m going to belt you,” Lee growled as Chip tied the hood so the wind wouldn’t blow it off. 

Chip dug out a bottle of water in his pack. It was the only one, but he wasn’t going to tell Lee that.

The injured man sucked down the water avidly, draining half before handing it to Chip. “Your turn.”

Chip shook his head. “I’ll get out another one when I’m thirsty.”

Lee studied him. “Liar.” But he took another drink and then shoved the bottle in his coat pocket. He gazed upward. “Appears that clouds are gathering. I think we’d better get going.”

Chip had noticed that, too, and just hoped that they could find a safe place before dark.

“Lead on, MacDuff,” Lee told him, motioning with a wave of the hand.

Chip started to ask him if he wanted to lean on him, but saw the determined look in the amber-brown eyes and simply turned and headed up the slope. It was a fairly easy way to the northeast and the deer trail was smooth for the most part. Despite the darkening of the sky and lowering of the clouds, Chip slowed his pace so as not to wear out the injured man.

His plan backfired, though, when Lee protested behind him. “Chip, while we have this straight trail, let’s get the lead out.”

Chip glanced over his shoulder. “You sure you’ll be okay at a faster pace?”

“We need to get into Cache Valley before it gets dark, right? Obviously this isn’t it. If I need help going upslope, I’ll ask, but while we’re on level ground and it’s easy going, let’s not waste time.”

“You promise you’ll let me know? You won’t try to overdo it like you did back there?”

“I promise, Mrs. Morton.”

Chip felt that Lee would do his best to make good on this one. Then he noticed the lines of fatigue in his friend’s face and wondered just how long Lee would last. They would see. He turned up the trail and started off again. The wind gusted, blowing some of the more recent snow against bushes and boulders. Chip noticed the trail veering upslope, gradually at first and then more steeply. He paused long enough to consult his compass. The trail was still in line with the direction they needed to go. He looked back and saw Lee leaning against a boulder, finishing off the bottle of water. He figured they had gone almost a half-mile along this trail. Lee had done better than he expected.

“Here,” Chip said, motioning for the empty bottle. “Before we go up the slope, let me fill it at the stream.”

“Uh, it looks clear, but….”

“Least of our worries, right now, Lee. You know that.” There was no answer and Chip filled the bottle. He took a long drink, filled it again and then handed it to his companion. Before setting off again, he settled the rifle more securely against his pack.

“You don’t have ammunition, so why are you hanging on to it?” Lee asked suddenly.

“Well, I bluffed with it once and besides, Nikki gave it to me.”

“Figured to make an outdoorsman out of you yet, I suppose,” Lee said, pushing himself away from the boulder.

“The only reason you have more savvy with this kind of thing than I do is all that time you played boy scout with ONI,” Chip retorted with a good natured chuckle. Lee just grunted acknowledgement. Again, Chip was struck with the sheer absurdity of this situation. He shrugged and they started up the slope. Before they got halfway, Chip was steadying the injured man. Most of the way, Lee simply kept his hand on Chip’s shoulder. The pace slowed considerably, but neither man said anything. The next valley was the same as the last, the trail following a dried up creek bed this time. It was a bit shorter, but no more strenuous until they needed to head up slope. This time Lee leaned more heavily against his side.

“Sorry, Chip,” Lee said for the umpteenth time.

“Save your breath for walking,” Chip snapped. He wished Crane would stop apologizing, but then he sighed. “If anyone needs to apologize, it’s me. We should have just stayed put.”

“Down at the highway?” panted his partner. “No. That was Hartsfield. You know what he’s capable of.”

They walked a bit further uphill. Chip pulled Lee’s arm over his shoulders to help him and Lee let him. Not a good sign.

“He hired one man,” Crane continued after a few more minutes, elaborating on what he had said earlier. “What’s to say there weren’t more…?”

“I know, Lee.”

They crested the mountain. The clouds seemed to swirl around them. Tiny snowflakes blew in a circular motion, and then eased up. What he could see of the valley ahead showed the same kind of emptiness he had seen in the previous valleys. Then the clouds lowered and obscured everything. He couldn’t see more than a quarter mile, but the trail ahead appeared to be a fairly easy walk. He saw more trees that would provide at least minimal shelter if the storm broke before they got out of this valley.

As though reading his mind, Lee pulled away, but not before Chip felt him shivering. “Cold?”

“Yeah, a little. Let’s get going. I don’t want to be out in this after dark.”

“May not have a choice. We’ll go as far as we can and then I’ll find us some kind of shelter,” explained Chip.  More light snow swirled around them.

“Not Cache Valley, I gather.”

“I don’t think so, or we’d see some sign of habitation. Of course, it’s so cloudy. Still, from what I saw on the map, and using the compass, when we cross into the valley, we won’t be a the far end, we’ll be coming out almost directly at a town.”

“Paradise,” Lee said with a soft chuckle.

“Or at least Avon. A bit smaller, but still there are ranches and farms. Probably over the next ridge.”

“Let’s go, then.”

Chip nodded and they set out again, his pace matching Lee’s flagging steps. He didn’t think Lee had much left in him. 

 

Part Two
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